Father John Misty - Fear Fun
Record Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: April 30, 2012
Yes, I realize this review is nearly a year late. You have to believe me (and the rating), that If I’m still determined to write my first “perfect” review for an album that came out almost a year ago, I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that Father John Misty (also known as Joshua Tillman, solo artist and ex-drummer of Fleet Foxes) has created one of the most beautiful records in recent history.
“I got into a van with enough mushrooms to choke a horse and started driving down the coast with nowhere to go. After a few weeks, I was writing a novel, which is where I finally found my narrative voice…” This is a quote from Tillman regarding how the album came about (and the partial novella included in its liner notes). Now, I’m not one to promote drug use in the making of masterpieces, but I will say that Tillman’s first album under the moniker, Fear Fun, is a sonic departure unlike anything he’s been involved with. Fear Fun is an incredible swirl of Beatles-esque melodies and psychedelic throwback that chooses to create new rather than mimic its influences.
Opener “Fun Times in Babylon” immediately begins to showcase common elements (and highlights) of the album, being a slow-burning piano piece centered on Tillman’s light, excellent vocal work and vision-quest lyrics; “I would like to abuse my lungs/Smoke everything in sight, with every girl I’ve ever known/Ride around my wreckage on a horse knee-deep in mud/Look out, Hollywood, here I come” act as the perfect introduction to songs like “Hollywood Cemetery Forever” and “O I Long to Feel Your Arms Around Me”. The former single is an immediate standout, boasting an eerie melody via a combination of only electric guitar and pounding drums. Overtop, Tillman croons “Jesus Christ ,girl/I laid up for hours in a daze/Retracing the expanse of your American back/With Adderall and weed in my veins” before leading into his excellent falsetto of an outro. Meanwhile, the latter is like Tillman’s attempt at a ballad/lovesong, featuring the album’s prominent use of organ, which helps to give it that classic vibe it sports so well.
The second half of Fear Fun does nothing to slow down the momentum built, or at least, break the momentum of several beautiful, slow-paced songs. In fact, the combination of “Only Son of a Ladiesman” and “This is Sally Hatchet” may be the album’s highest point, “Sally Hatchet” being the closest thing to an actual trip you’ll have listening to the record and the immediate cousin/lovechild of Beatles’ tracks“ Eleanor Rigby” and “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”. “Ladiesman” is simply the kind of Woodstockian anthem that defines Fear Fun, showcasing all of the aforementioned musical elements, background harmonies and words like “I swear that man was womankind’s first husband/They all died in a line to save him/I’m a steady hand, I’m a Dodgers fan/I’m a leading brand of a one night stand/I’m a ladiesman”.
The album is not without its rock ‘n roll tracks, however; trust me, these are the kinds of songs that define the age-old term. Look no further than the somewhat nonsensical “I’m Writing a Novel”, based around a quick-paced acoustic guitar and quirky electric riffs, Tillman’s best use of organ and even some fun, saloon-style piano (you know, the kind played by guys with slick,curly mustaches). “Well, You Can Do It Without Me” is a 70’s drenched mid-tempo dream that seems to increase with energy as it plays out (with some of my favorite Tillman lyrics, such as “If you want a page written ‘bout you in the book/But you need a food tester ‘cause you curse the cook/I’ll take some wine, but you can dine without me”. Honestly, the album’s lowest point comes from the country/western-tinged “Tee Pees 1-12”, which only ranks so low because of its obnoxious, out-of-place feeling during an otherwise flawless record.
However, all is forgiven upon hearing Fear Fun’s most excellent cuts, “Nancy From Now On” and “Everyman Needs a Companion”. “Nancy” is another surreal affair (“Please, pour me another drink/And punch me in the face/You can call me Nancy”) that bursts into the album’s lushest chorus, illuminated by Tillman’s falsetto and pristine production (which never falters throughout the record). “Everyman” is a sum ofthe album’s parts, taking Fear Fun’s organic instrumentation and expanding it into a beautiful closing ballad centered around the idea of its title. Again, Tillman’s writing boasts a different perspective of everything, apparent when he sings “John the Baptist took JesusChrist/Down to the river on a Friday night/They talked about Mary like a couple of boys/With nothing to lose, too scared to try”. The music fades out, and you’re left wondering what you just heard could possibly be comparable to.
It’s an album I never would have imagined appreciating this much, and it all comes down to a matter of timing. This record may not click with you on first listen, today, tomorrow, or even a year from now. Fear Fun is simple, yet complicated, calming and somewhat overwhelming all at the same time. But much like the anticipation of an illicit substance kicking in, it’s something that can’t be unfelt once taking affect. And that’s what beautiful music is all about.